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Welcome to Innovation in the Burg, a podcast about science and innovation in St. Petersburg. If you’re a self-described science or technology geek, or even if you aren’t, this will be a fun and informative conversation. Each week, we’ll be joined by a local science or technology expert who will talk about what they’re working on. But to make sure we keep this in perspective and we don’t become too technical, we have a community member joining us. Our hope is that you learn something new and enjoy our conversation.

07/26/2019 | Episode 009 | 29:18

Tampa Bay Rays' Bill Walsh talks redesigning baseball stadiums for a new generation of fans

Tampa Bay Rays' Bill Walsh talks redesigning baseball stadiums for a new generation of fans

On this episode of Innovation in the 'Burg: Rays baseball. Tampa Bay Rays VP of Strategy and Development Bill Walsh talks with host Alison Barlow and community member (and huge Rays fan) Paul Carder. Walsh talks redesigning stadiums for a new generation of fans, what a new stadium could look like, and how the Rays are meeting the demands of changing consumer behavior. As a season ticket holder, Carder gives his perspective on the changing state of baseball and the possible sister city plan with Montreal.

Key Insights

  • Expert: Bill Walsh, VP of Strategy and Development. Walsh has spent 12 years with the Tampa Bay Rays. Walsh is charged with much of the responsibility around guest experience.
  • Community Member: Paul Carder. Carder played a leading role in the development of the Grow Smarter Community Economic Development Plan, and has served on the Downtown Waterfront Master Plan task force, the Pier task force and other committees and councils. Carder sits on the Board of the Chamber PAC. He was named Chamber Member of the Year in 2013.
  • Walsh shares how expectations have changed from fans coming out to watch ballgames. There are a growing number of fans who treat the baseball game as an entertainment option, a backdrop for socializing or work outings. This encourages a move to more social spaces, less stadium seating.
  • How do you successfully create spaces that encourage people to come out to games? "We've basically built stadiums for the last 100 years, where 95 percent of the seats are equivalent to the middle seat on an airplane."
  • Big focuses of present and future: Creation of social spaces. Renovations like Budweiser Porch and Center Field. The newest offering this year, Left Field Ledge: small groups of four sitting around a table with swivel chairs to allow for more robust social experiences.
  • According to Walsh, some of the changes in game attendance are coming from changes in consumer behavior. Instead of ownership, consumers now seek access. This is exemplified by the bygone days of buying CDs and movies. Now, we all have subscription services. Season tickets have gone much the same way. The Rays have created a flex pass for that purpose.
  • Innovative ideas: a subscription model. For a monthly fee, fans could come to a certain number of games, regardless of when they decide to attend. They may or may not have a seat, and may or may not have a prime seat.
  • Going cashless: Tropicana Field became the first cashless Major League sports venue this year, attempting to speed up costumer transactions and keep fans closer to the game instead of being stuck on the concourses.
  • Upshot: It worked. The Trop is able to serve 5 percent more customers during peak times thanks to going cashless.
  • What does the stadium of the future look like? Walsh talks about the "blue sky process" that the Rays underwent in planning the Ybor Stadium.
  • Tropicana Field was a "last of its kind" build. Two years later, Camden Yards changed everything, fundamentally uprooting the way ballparks were designed. "The last thing we wanted to do was build another ballpark that is "the last of its time."
  • Trends to build the new stadium around: Flexibility, social spaces, wider seats, wider rows, more comfortable seats and amenities.
  • Complexities of running a major league stadium: technology is much more complex than your local coffee shop. Parking, security, food and beverage, merchandise, ticket sales, etc. That information has to all be centralized.
  • Split season plan: "For now we really are just hoping to have a serious conversation and for folks to have an open mind about this ... On the threat of innovation and in the spirit of innovation, we think it's really important that people keep an open mind."
  • Walsh on attendance: "We've seen tremendous success on the field and unfortunately it has not carried over to the box office. There's tremendous fandom here in Tampa Bay, but they're not coming out regularly for the 81 games we play at Tropicana Field."
  • Carder's reaction to the Montreal split: "As a fan, I had the feeling that Stu Sternberg was as genuine as I had ever heard him in making a commitment wanting to stay in Tampa Bay."

"We've basically built stadiums for the last 100 years, where 95 percent of the seats are equivalent to the middle seat on an airplane."

Bill Walsh of the Tampa Bay Rays (left), Paul Carder (right)

"The last thing we wanted to do was build another ballpark that is "the last of its time."

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About the host

Alison Barlow is the Executive Director of the St. Petersburg Innovation District. Her role is to harness expertise in health science, marine science, education, and art to form unique collaborations. These multi-sector, cross discipline collaborations strive to identify innovative solutions that will grow the economic and social vibrancy of St. Petersburg and address key global issues. Alison grew up in St. Petersburg, graduated from Boca Ciega High School, received a Bachelors in Hospitality Administration from Florida State University, and later a Master of Business Administration with a concentration in Management of Global Information Systems from American University in Washington D.C. For 17 years, Alison worked as a business and technology consultant based in Washington DC, often for the Department of Defense. She focused on strategic planning, process improvement and technology collaboration. Following her relocation back to St. Petersburg, Alison became the manager and a lead facilitator for Collaborative Labs at St. Petersburg College. Alison joined the St. Petersburg Innovation District as its inaugural Executive Director in June of 2017. In addition to her work, Alison is involved with the Leadership St. Petersburg Alumni Association, Friends of Strays Animal Shelter Board, and the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce.

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